Once five friends forward you the same article, it is time to share it with the rest of the world. This one was by the New York Times health writer, Jane Brody, and it stated, quite simply: Dirt good.
Well, it didn’t state it quite that simply. Ms. Brody works for The Times, after all. While they’ve still got a dime in the bank (and that does seem to be their current balance), they’re willing to spring for whole sentences. So what she wrote was:
evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you. In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with ‘dirt’ spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma. [Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html?_r=1&em]
Got that? Dirt may help PREVENT all the allergies and asthma we’re seeing.
Without getting into the ins and outs of bodily worms (for the record: ew), let us just say that this is great news for all us of parents more than a little suspicious of the clinical levels of cleanliness being foisted upon us.
From portable Purell to the personal, anti-bacterial placemats we’re now encouraged to tote along to restaurants — as if Applebee’s is teeming with typhoid — a slew of kid cleanliness products have sprung up that would have seemed absurd even 15 years ago. These products start with the assumption that your child and germs should never meet.
Which is a fine assumption if your child has (God forbid) just undergone a stem cell transplant.
Otherwise, healthy children and germs and dirt have had a long and happy relationship since the beginning of time. Ms. Brody even says that that may be why babies put everything in their mouths. Not to feel it or taste it. To get a great big mouthful of germs. (And worms.)
The science seems to suggest that only by being exposed to a whole slew of bacteria does the body learn to sort out the good from the bad. When the body only gets exposed to a limited spectrum of germs, it never develops that sorting skill. As a result it overreacts – perhaps with allergies — to ANY germs it meets later on.
So when you start to think, “Do I need a shopping cart liner? Those carts seem so gross.” Or, “Gee, I better wipe off that doorknob/toy/railing/tray/fork/swing/pillow/phone/pretzel/air molecule my child is about to touch….” Think about the fact that there is a difference between the cleanliness levels required by hospitals filled with the sickest of the sick, and the levels required by your average, suck-on-the-highchair-leg baby.
Then relax and let her eat the cookie that fell on the floor. Right next to that pile of nightcrawlers.